Monthly roundup culture consumed – February 2016

So, what did I do with February?

Books

 

I started the Isobelle Carmody series The Obernewtyn Chronicle, making my way through the first book Obernewtyn. I’ll be reviewing the book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, so I won’t say much here. I enjoyed the book, but didn’t love it. Will be interested to see where the series goes though.

Sorcerer to the Crown: Sorcerer Royal 1 by Zen Cho was an interesting read. Set in an alternate 1800s in Britain, the story focuses on a young African man who is the first black man to ascend to the position of Sorcerer Royal who finds himself championing the cause of equality for women and the poor to have equal access to magic. The book is witty and fun to read, with a great cast of characters. I admit I was expecting something more in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (and there are certainly some similarities), however the book was a lot more light hearted. An excellent read, well worth picking up.

I also read the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s young adult superhero series, Calamity. A good series if you like Sanderson’s work, with an interesting take on superheroes. If you were going to start, you’d start at the beginning of the series though – the book wouldn’t make much sense read by itself.

TV

I’ve kept going with the sci fi series Killjoys on Foxtel about space based bounty hunters. Very gritty, with some good acting and interesting concepts/storylines. I read somewhere that it is produced by the same people as made Orphan Black, and the writing does have a similar feel to it.

The new Sherlock feature length The Abominable Bride was as excellent as always, with the 19th century plot cleverly worked into the modern BBC series. It reminded me of how good the series is, it’s a real shame the episodes are so few and far between. Compulsory viewing if you’re a fan of the series, but well worth having a look if you’re only a casual viewer. You’ll just have to ignore the brief tangents into the modern day.

I watched the end of The Shannara Chronicles, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back for the second series. The production values were excellent, but the acting didn’t really improve over the series and the plot didn’t really hold me. In the last few episodes, quite a few characters died and I didn’t really care – not a good sign!

Supergirl is continuing well. While not my favourite superhero franchise, it is something I can watch with the kids which is excellent. I can see that a few of the sub-plots (love triangles etc) are going to start to bug me more and more as time goes on, but on the whole it is very watchable TV.

Movies

I actually got out to see a movie in February. Deadpool, the Marvel movie in the X-Men universe (not, as I thought going in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe), was, in a word, excellent. Great writing, funny as all hell, convincing acting and with an adult sensibility that many of the superhero movies miss. If you don’t like sex, violence or bad language, best give it a miss. If you like the idea of a slightly more grown up superhero movie, don’t miss it. I suspect that a lot of the humour comes from comparing it with other superhero movies. Given that, if you haven’t watched much of the recent onslaught of MCU, DC and X-Men movies, this might not be one you have to rush out and watch. Still, excellent!

Coming Up

I’ve started on The House of Shattered Wings by Alienate de Bodard, based in an alternate Earth in a Paris shattered by magical war. Good reading so far, will let you know how it went next month!

Batman vs Superman is locked in for the end of March – looking forward to seeing how DC go with creating competition for the MCU.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – January 2016

So, what did I do with January?

Books

Surprisingly not a lot of reading. The only two books I finished during the month were The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was a interesting read. The Locke Lamora of the title is a thief and leader of The Gentlemen Bastards, a thieving band that uses mummery and deception to make their scores. After some initial origin story (which remains interwoven through the rest of the book), what follows is a twisted tale of deception and betrayal, populated with an array of characters that range from anti-heroes to outright villains. I enjoy the grimdark style of story, especially in books like this that maintain a better gender balance. I enjoyed the book and will probably get the next in the series eventually.

The Bands of Mourning is the next in the second era Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson. Set in a world that has started to mix technology with magic, the story combines elements of the American wild west, an almost steampunk vibe and fantasy. These books are very popular, and extremely readable.

TV

I’ve started to watch The Shannara Chronicles, based on the books by Terry Brooks. The show has high production values and is beautifully shot, however I’m struggling with the acting, which is very wooden (including actors who I’ve seen give much better performances in other shows). I like fantasy enough that I’m giving this more of a chance, but it isn’t looking hopeful.

The sci fi series Killjoys has just started on Foxtel. Space based bounty hunters. I like the production values, but I’ve only seen the one episode so far so I’ll save commentary until a bit further in.

I started the second season of From Dusk Til Dawn, a horror series based loosely on the movie of the same name. I like what they’ve done to expand the world of the vampires, and seeing the guy that played the foreign exchange student in That 70s Show as a bad-arse vampire has a certain amount of comic value.

My 7 year old has started to watch Teen Titans, a cartoon about five superheroes (Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven and Cyborg). The story lines are pretty wacky, but in a sign of my enduring immaturity, I’m finding Teen Titans as funny as my daughter does. If you’ve got kids and you want them to like superheroes then I certainly recommend checking them out.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve become somewhat addicted to superhero TV. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is the latest in the TV that brought us Arrow and The Flash. I’ve only watched the first two episodes, and it is OK so far. However, I must concede that I’m struggling to see how the central conceit can last for the next few episodes, let alone more than one season. I guess I’ll have to watch along to find out.

The latest season of Grimm caught us a bit by surprise, so we missed the first few episodes. I really like Grimm, they have been doing a great job building the world season by season. One of my concerns at the start, around the dearth of strong female characters, has been slowly addressed and while it is not a perfect show on that score, it has significantly improved. If you haven’t watched it though, I recommend starting from the beginning – jumping in on season 5 would be a little disorienting.

Movies

None! A few coming up in February, but my movie watching in January was severely limited.

Coming Up

During February I’ll be continuing to watch the TV shows above and work out which of the new shows I’ll continue with. I’m also planning to watch the new Sherlock feature length The Abominable Bride. I’ve started reading the Isobelle Carmody series The Obernewtyn Chronicles. I’m looking forward to Zoolander 2 and Deadpool at the movies.

Monthly roundup – June and July 2015

So, my website has been neglected for the last couple of months – work has been a bit crazy and I’m running very behind on a whole lot of extra-curricular stuff.

So, let me catch you up gentle reader.

I’ve read a few books over the last couple of months, all of which I enjoyed. I finally read Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Set in the England of the industrial revolution, it follows the exploits of Dodger, a young man who scours the sewers of London for treasure that others have flushed away. I’ve been putting off reading this book, knowing that it was the last new pure Pratchett I’m every going to read. It was good, amusing all the way through and with the great turn of phrase I expect from a Pratchett novel. It was strange reading something that wasn’t set in Discworld, but it was a refreshing change (as much as I love Discworld novels!). Recommended if you’re a Pratchett fan.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung. Nahrung is one of my favourite authors, and The Big Smoke didn’t disappoint. I’ll be writing a full review soon, but in the meantime if Aussie vampires in Brisvegas sounds intriguing, get out and buy the book (and Blood and Dust, the first book in the duology, which I reviewed here).

Moving more internationally, I inhaled The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which has featured on many of the speculative fiction award lists this year. An excellent novel, it follows a half-elf-half-orc who unexpectedly inherits the throne when his father and older half-brothers unexpectedly die in an accident. The main character is very sympathetic, and the writing very clean. A real page turner, I read the book in a couple of sittings. I can see why it has received so many accolades. One of the best fantasies of the year.

Peripheral by William Gibson was also very enjoyable, if not the same kind of page turner. Based on the premise that people in the future find a way to communicate with the past through a computer system, it is part science fiction, part murder mystery and part thriller. It took a little bit of effort to get into the book, but once there I really enjoyed it. Well written and the trademark Gibson  extrapolation of current technology gives much food for thought.

I decided to read the winners of each novel category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards to keep my eye on the Australian scene. I started with Peacemaker  by Marianne de Pierres, winner of the Best Science Fiction category. I’ll be doing a full review for the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, but in short it was a good novel solidly executed, but I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back for the second book in the series.

Next off the mark was The Dreaming Pool by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoyed this book. There was an element of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, because I had completely the wrong idea about the book from the title and the cover. Once again, I’ll be writing a full review for the AWWC but well worth reading.

I’m taking a short break from my Aurealis reading to look at The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (more Stephen Baxter than Terry Pratchett, mores the pity – nothing against Stephen Baxter, but I do miss Pratchett’s writing). About as expected so far.

TV wise, like everyone I watching through to the end of Game of Thrones season 5, and have spent the requisite amount of time worrying about Jon Snow’s fate. That’s probably enough – there have been a lot more written about GoT everyone else on the internet, and I find myself without anything interesting to say.

I started watching Dark Matter, which has the distinction of being a science fiction show actually set on a spaceship. I hadn’t realised I’d been missing that until I got about half way through the first episode and thought “<insert deity of choice>, I love spaceships”. A good premise (everyone waking up with amnesia) and very competently executed so far. I’m hooked.

I also started watching Defiance season 3. For a show that was released primarily to sell a computer game, I’ve found Defiance quite compelling. There has been a bit of a clear out of old characters, but I’m still liking the show. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons, I probably wouldn’t advise starting at season 3.

I started watching The Messengers but abandoned it after 1.5 episodes. I’m not a religious man, but I can be convinced to watch angel/demon shows (for instance Supernatural), but I’ve decided I only like them when the angels are almost as bad as the demons.

On the superhero side of things, Gotham has been getting better and better. It is dark – very gritty with characters having to make some nasty choices (one of them, for instance, had to scoop her own eyeball out. It made sense at the time). I’ve always liked the Batman tale, and this exploration of the pre-origin story has grabbed me more than I thought it would. Worth persevering with if you like Batman but didn’t like the first half of the season.

I also just finished Arrow season 3, which was about as I expected. I’ve heard a lot of commentary panning the flashback format of the show, but I really like it. I’m enjoying having Oliver Queen’s backstory filled in, and having the flashbacks track exactly 5 years behind the main action works for me.

Agents of SHIELD was competently executed, and lets face it, I’m just a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed watching it, I’m struggling to find anything interesting to say about it. So, lets just stick with “if you like the MCU, you’re probably watching AoS already” and leave it at that.

12 Monkeys was an interesting time hopping adventure. Based loosely around the Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt movie of the same name, it included an interesting take on time travel that remained mostly coherent. I remained interested enough to see it through to the end, just to see how everything played out. I liked the end, pointing everything at “you can’t escape destiny”, then pulling a fast one in the last scene. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the second season.

Wayward Pines started off in an intriguing way. A ten episode season, I was surprised when they revealed the mystery at the heart of the story about half way through. It changed the nature of the narrative quite dramatically. I didn’t mind not having Lost levels of irritating and contrived mystery, but it has made me wonder where the show could possibly go from here. I may start the next season, but I make no guarantees about finishing it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started in on the new seasons of Teen Wolf and Falling Skies. More on them next month.

I even got out to see a couple of movies. Imagine what you think the Entourage movie will be like. Picture it in your mind. You’ll be pleased to know that it is exactly what is hovering in your pre-frontal cortex. If you liked the series, then it is a bit of nostalgia. If not, don’t bother.

I really enjoyed Ant Man. It was significantly funnier that I was expecting, and after the ever escalating plots of the last few MCU movies, it was nice to have something with a manageable scale. A good stand alone movie as well if you haven’t kept up with the franchise.

And finally I popped out to see Mission Impossible this weekend. Pretty good non-stop explosions and Tom Cruise may be a fruit loop, but he is an incredibly fit fruit loop. Either special effects are getting really good, or Mr Cruise does a LOT of his own stunts. Lets face it, we all know that we’re going to wake up one day to the headline “Tom Cruise Dies Performing Bloody Stupid Stunt”. Still, in the meantime it makes for some spectacular, if mindless, entertainment.

 

Monthly roundup – May 2015

Work’s been busy during the month of May, so not a lot to report back.

I continued my Ditmar Best Novel reading with Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix. Both good reads if you like Australian speculative fiction.

I also continued my Aussie reading with The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke. I’ll be reviewing that one for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge, so no spoilers here.

I’ve started to think about what kind of books to recommend to Ms 7 as her reading improves, so when I saw the first two volumes in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan for $2 at a local library book sale, I decided to dive right in. The books were much as I expected, with a relatively simple plot and themes more relevant to those still at school than a 40-something adult. Still, I found myself turning pages at a rapid rate and I kept reading until I’d finished both books, so they must be doing something right!

I’ve got three books on the go at the moment:

  • Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely from Fablecroft – an anthology of short fiction. I’ve quite enjoyed the stories so far, but I’ll say more in my wrap up (I think I’ll review it for the AWW challenge as well).
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett. I was saddened to hear of the death of Terry Pratchett recently – his Discworld novels were a great source of joy through my adolescent years, and have remained firm favourites ever since. I’ve put off reading Dodger for quite some time – not really sure why. I’m about 25% of the way through now and loving it – but it is love tinged with a slight sense of sorrow that this will be the last piece of “new” Pratchett writing aimed at adults I will probably ever read.
  • Land of the Golden Clouds by Archie Weller. This has been on my bedside table for way too long now, a victim to my preference for eBooks over physical. I have at long last made it past the first chapter – and it is a very interesting read. Not the sort of book where you can skim read anything though, so I’m finding it slow going. The overlay of Aboriginal culture onto a far future landscape is deeply fascinating though – more once I’ve got a bit further.

Finally started on season 5 of Game of Thrones in May, and ripped through the first 5 or 6 episodes. I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers, but excellent television (as the first four seasons led me to expect!).

A fair bit of SF has started up recently, eating into my productive time. I’ve started:

  • 12 Monkeys – OK first 3 episodes based very loosely around the movie of the same name but haven’t been compelled to keep watching. This one is teetering on the edge of being sacrificed to the gods of Foxtel hard drive free space.
  • Wayward Pines – interesting show – I’m about 4 episodes in and the central mystery is keeping me hooked. Not sure how much beyond any big reveals I’ll last though – still, I’ll keep watching for now.
  • Arrow season 3. It really annoyed my that The Flash and Arrow were played separately from each other. I enjoy both shows, but the crossover episodes from The Flash gave away too many plot points from Arrow. I have heard other commentators complain about the flashback format, slowly revealing what happened to Oliver Queen when he was presumed dead for 5 years, but I really like it.
  • Gotham made a return to our screens and I’ve kept watching. I quite like it – I was even inspired to go back and start watching the Christopher Nolan Batman movies again. Seems to be hitting its stride.

I’m hovering on the brink of succumbing to the lure of Netflix, just so I can watch Daredevil, which I’ve heard good things about.

On the writing front, I went back to an old story I’ve tinkered on here and there for quite a while. At 11,000 words it is an inconvenient length for submission – I really needed to either cut a few thousand words and submit it as a short story or flesh it out to novella length. To be honest the world is starting to grow on me, so I’ve written the first cut of another few thousand words so far, and will probably write quite a bit more before I’m done. None of this is helping get anything published of course, but I find as long as I’m actually writing, the not being published part isn’t quite so hard.

Oh, and of course my piece for Antipodean SF issue 200 was played on the Anti SF radio show, episode Gemma, released on 23 May 2015. It’s surreal to hear my work in audio form, and I’m always grateful to Nuke for providing that extra channel for people to enjoy the fiction.

Monthly roundup – April 2015

So, what have I been reading this month? I read Glenda Larke’s second book in the The Forsaken Lands series, The Dagger’s Path. I’ll write up a review for the Australian Women’s Writer’s Reading Challenge eventually, so not much more to say.

Having read two of the five “Best Novel” nominations for the 2015 Ditmar awards, I decided to make my way through the other three. I’ll be posting reviews, but for the record I finished:

I’ve just started an Archie Weller novel, but it is a bit heavy going. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of the language soon.

Game of Thrones started again, but I haven’t watched any of it. Don’t spoil it for me. Seriously.

I did however manage to see the series Agent Peggy Carter from the good people at Marvel. Really liked the setting and the 1950s vibe. With the high tech gizmos that fill the other Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings, there is something refreshing about getting back to some simpler material. The acting is good and some interesting takes on sexism and other gender related issues. I liked the fact that it was only 8 episodes long – kept the story tight and moving at a fair clip. Hope we see more in the future.

Speaking of TV, I also watched a series on Foxtel called The Librarians. It has sort of a Warehouse 13 vibe going for it – the Library collects magical artefacts and stores them away. A bit simplistic in parts, but it is one that I can watch with the kids which is always a bonus. I had the feeling I’d missed some backstory, and a little bit of research told me that the series was based on a series of three “Librarian” movies produced in the 2000s. We had to immediately track them down, and having watched the first two they are indeed as cheesy as I expected. Still, anything that avoids my 600th watching of Frozen gets my vote at the moment.

12 Monkeys is definitely not a show to watch with the kids. I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes, but seems OK. Will give it a couple more before making a final thumbs up/thumbs down decision.

So, should I get Netflix? Pretty much it is only the Daredevil series that is attracting me, but given the other Marvel series coming down the pipeline I suspect I’m going to cave at some point.

On the writing front, I’m still struggling with the editing phase of Unaligned. To help get my groove back, I’ve started a first draft of the second book in the series and I’m back to writing every night which is good. However, I really need to work out a way to build in some proper editing on the first novel manuscript!

Monthly roundup – March 2015

Welcome to my round up of March 2015. I’m going to focus on being more consistent with these monthly updates, and include a wider range of culture consumed if I’ve got something to say. I’ll also be including brief updates on my writing.

I finished my run through the Xbox One game Dragonage Inquisition. I don’t play many games these days – too much other stuff going on in life, work and writing. But I thought I’d mention Dragonage particularly. Its strong emphasis on story telling made the experience very enjoyable (and a bit addictive – my wife has been a bit annoyed at the amount of time I’ve spent with the game). There is a wonderful spread of gender, sexual orientation and general diversity in the casts of characters, and a lot of the writing/voice acting is surprisingly well done. Well worth the price of admission if you like your fantasy epic and your games role playing.

My wife and I have been watching, and enjoying, the TV series Grimm. Season 4 started recently on Foxtel, so we’ve been following along over the last couple of months. I really like Grimm – the take on the storybook monsters is interesting and there have been some great storylines over the first three seasons. Season 4 has been good so far, and I’m particularly enjoying the digging into the broader world building. They have introduced/developed some of the female characters over the last season, which has provided some good balance to the earlier series (which was very male-dominated). This season continues the “strong women” theme.

I also dipped into up and coming Australian SF author David McDonald’s work, with his recently released short collection Cold Comfort and Other Tales. You can read the full review here, but spoiler alert – I liked it!

I’ve been a bit disturbed by how few of the Ditmar and Aurealis award nominated novels I’ve actually read. With that in mind, I’ve started by Australian speculative fiction award nominated reading with The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke. A full review will come soon (it will double as my first Australian Women Writer’s 2015 challenge novel as well).

I’ll be moving on to Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan, Bound by Alan Baxter and Clariel by Garth Nix over the next few weeks. I’ve also nabbed Phantazein by Tehani Wessely. That will get me through the Ditmar shortlist (when you add in The Godless by Ben Peek that I reviewed last year), but there are still a lot of novels on the Aurealis lists that I’ll need to get to.

On the writing side, I’m still struggling to find time to edit my novel length manuscript Unaligned. I’m finding that while I can write first draft materials in fits and starts, I don’t seem to be able to dive into editing without a long stretch of time (at least a couple of hours). A busy job and two small kids don’t provide many opportunity for that kind of time. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit stalled over the last month or so.

To break the impasse, I’ve started writing some more first draft material for other work just to make sure the daily creative juices are flowing. I’ve done a bit of editing on a shorter work and I’m trying to use shorter amounts of time more effectively. We’ll see!

So, what have you been watching/reading/playing/writing/creating lately? Update us all in the comments below.

Monthly Roundup – January & February 2015

Welcome to the first monthly roundup post for 2015. Can you believe it is March already? The pace of year scares the bejeesus out of me, I don’t mind telling you.

Earlier in the month I reviewed The Marching Dead by Lee Battersby, and what an excellent read it was. Go and check out the review. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

I also went back a bit in time I read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (plus bonus novella). I usually review Australian authors separately, however the trilogy is from a while ago and Garth Nix is popular enough that I very much doubt he needs my signal boost! The individual titles of the series are SabrielLirael and Abhorsen. I enjoyed the world building and background to the story, the late 19th-early 20th century feel of the non-magic land and the fantastic world “over the Wall”. The stories were interesting, but I must admit the head-hopping between characters was quite distracting and kept throwing me out of the story. I note that Nix has recently released a prequel Clariel – still deciding whether to purchase that one.

Brandon Sanderson’s latest YA novel Firefight was released and I had a quick read through. I enjoy Sanderson’s writing, and Firefight is another fast paced, interesting read with an interesting premise. Apart from the main character’s “bad metaphor” schtick (which was very distracting and felt quite forced) I enjoyed the ride. I also read his short novella Mitosis which is set between the two books in the series. I’ve probably succumbed to a shameless grab for cash from the hordes of Sanderson fans, but it was only a small amount of money and was a good read in and of itself. One of the things about Sanderson’s writing that I’m thinking a lot about is how he maintains a certain high octane pace through his books. It’s something that I think is missing from my own writing and reading these 1.5 books has given me a lot to think about.

My power drive through True Blood continued at lightening pace, and in late February we finished season 7, and therefore the whole series. I enjoyed True Blood more than I thought I would – the delivery of a few of the characters was hilarious (Eric, Pam and Jason in particular for those that have watched the show). The seventh season did feel like a bit of a clumsy add-on – I suspect it probably should have ended towards the end of season 6. Still, all up some great genre television.

I finally got the chance to listen to the sci-fi radio play series Night Terrace on a Sydney – Wollongong – Canberra – Sydney drive one weekend. My 6 year old daughter listened to it with me, and was quite taken by it all. “Is there any more of that Eddie show?” she asked me just the other week. If that’s not an endorsement for a second season, I don’t know what is. Very funny and clever writing, if you haven’t checked it out you should be very disappointed in yourself.

I’ve been to the movies more than normal over the last couple of months. Actually out to the cinema. I know, I was surprised too. I enjoyed the final instalment of The Hobbit although I don’t think I’ll need to see another CGI orc for quite some time. Penguins of Madagascar was hilarious – it is great that one of my kids has got old enough to justify me going to see goofy cartoons. Big Hero 6 was a surprisingly good super hero animation – Ms 6 loved it too. I definitely didn’t take her to see Kingsmen – that movie has a LOT of violence, but so over the top that it is hard to be too grossed out. Very much enjoyed that too. Most recently we saw The Imitation Game which is a very good bio-pic of Alan Turing’s life and well worth a look if you’re interested in the history of computing.

And it wouldn’t have been the holiday season without watching the Doctor Who Christmas special. I enjoyed it – some very funny Santa Claus action. But was it just me or did it seem like the ending was left open so Jemma Coleman could make up her mind about staying on with the show at the last minute? Probably just me.

I enjoyed Tansy Rayner Robert’s Musketeer Space prequel novella Seven Days of Joyeux, all about the lives of the three Musketeers pre-Dana. If you’re reading along with Musketeer Space, the novella adds some great depth to some of the main characters and fills in some interesting backstory. If you’ve been thinking of investing in this interesting experiment in serial novel writing, Seven Days of Joyeux is an excellent way of trying before you commit to a whole novel.

In preparation for watching the movie on Foxtel, I reread Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card during the holidays. It has been very many years since I read the book, and I was struck by the bleakness of the narrative and the extent to which Ender perpetrates such  atrocities in the name of survival. An interesting blast from the past, although I don’t feel particularly compelled to read any more of the series.

I’ve recently finished Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve read reviews that say “Pride and Prejudice with magic thrown in”, which about sums it up. Kowal is one of the presenters on the podcast Writing Excuses, and I’ve heard her talk about the series of books, in particular how she has combined the base characters with different styles of novels (e.g. regency “manners” novel, heist novel etc). I’m interested in reading more of them, to see how she does it. The writing was good and the story pulled me through – not normally my cup of tea but a refreshing change.

I also finished Cold Comfort & Other Tales by David McDonald, but I’ll write that up separately.

That’s all for now. What have you been reading/watching/listening to?

Monthly roundup – November and December 2014

Once again I’ve been somewhat lax, both with my summaries and with this website in general. In my (somewhat poor) defence, I have been flat out at work in the lead up to the end of the year. I love the organisation I’m working for at the moment, and my new role gives me the chance to work with some fantastic people. But it is busy. Very, very busy.

On a related note, I understand a couple of those fantastic people from work have decided to find out a bit more about my life outside of the office by tracking me down online. Hi Sally and Robyn in particular!

So, a summary of both November and December reading and watching. Many of the books mentioned below are due a full review as a part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Challenge, so not much detail will be provided here. I’ve got 6 reviews to write over the next couple of days.

Regular readers will know that I read the first book in Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun series earlier in the year (Winter Be My Shield). The plot was compelling enough that I continued on to read the second and third books in the trilogy over the last couple of months – Black Sun Light My Way and North Star Guide Me Home. Both will add to my AWW challenge total, so nothing further to add here.

As many of you would know, I’ve also been reading Musketeer Space – Tansy Rayner Robert’s gender swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers, set in a space opera universe. I’ve continued on with my reading, and I’m almost up to date. Even though the story isn’t finished yet, I’ve decided to do a review of the first half for AWW, mostly as a signal boost for the book, which I’m enjoying very much.

I’ve also finished Kaleidoscope – the anthology released by Twelfth Planet Press. Given the Australian publisher and stories by some Australian women in the book, I’ve also decided to review Kaleidoscope for AWW.

Rounding out my AWW reading for the year are two further books from Twelfth Planet press – Secret Lives by Rosaleen Love and The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett. Like the above, they’ll both be reviewed on this site soon.

I’ve found the AWW challenge interesting in 2014. It is the third year I’ve undertaken the challenge, and in previous years I’ve breezed in, finishing much earlier in the year. In 2014 I was reading right up until late December in order to consume my 10 books by Australian women writers. I’m going to reflect on this a little more in my end of challenge post, just as soon as I’ve written up the remaining reviews!

Having enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie earlier in the year, I’ve gone on to read the sequel Ancillary Sword. These are very good space opera, with some continuing fantastic reflections on the nature and impact of colonisation. I particularly like the representation of the main character (Breq), who used to be the AI controlling a whole space ship, and able to split her focus between multiple “ancillaries” (dead bodies animated and controlled by the AI) – now reduced to a single ancillary. The way she sees the world is coloured by this experience – I found the voice of the novel to have a freshness that I quite enjoyed. I’ll definitely be reading the third book in the trilogy when it comes out.

The Wild Card series, which I began re-reading as an exercise in nostalgia more than anything else, released a new book, Lowball, over the last couple of months. I enjoyed it more than some of the recent Wild Card books – it was a continuation of the Fort Freak storyline, and has that mosaic novel kind of feel. If you like the Wild Card universe, its well worth checking out. If you don’t (or have never dipped your toes into the Wild Card waters), this isn’t the place to start.

Having now read all the Wild Card books that have come out as eBooks, I came across another wildcard book – this time a graphic novel called The Hard Call. I enjoyed it – the story focused on one of my favourite characters (Croyd Crenson) and the art gave life to the strangeness of the Wild Card universe in a way that was very different from just reading prose. Having said that, I do prefer the novels – they have more depth.

I also read the next in the Long Earth series, The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I like the conceit of this series, the existence of multiple Earths that humanity can “step” into. The evolution of the world of the books has been quite satisfying, as humanity spreads out across the multiverse. Good writing, excellent dialogue, but I found myself without much more to say than in previous reviews.

Rounding out my reading was Keith Stevenson’s first novel, Horizon. I try to review and promote Australian works more broadly, so I think I’ll be writing a full review on this one too (the unwritten reviews are starting to form a log-jam!). Very enjoyable though – especially if you like science fiction on the more realistic end of the spectrum. Get out and buy a copy, don’t wait for my review!

In terms of genre television, I’ve started on two main series. The Flash has recently started playing on Foxtel. I enjoy Arrow, from which The Flash is spun off, so I thought I’d give it a go. OK so far, but need a few more episodes to form a full opinion.

I’m somewhat late to the True Blood party, but with the final season now out and Foxtel having all 7 seasons available through their on demand offering, I decided to wade in. I’ve watched seasons 1 and 2, and have just started on season 3. I like the way the world is coming together – the politics of the supernatural world are starting to come into focus. Interesting structure of episodes, with almost every episode finishing with a very deliberate cliffhanger that get resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode. I can see it would have been very successful at building a loyal base. I also like that it is set in small town southern USA – a very different starting point than most shows. Season 2 was a lot better than season 1, and I think I’m in for the long haul.

This is turning into a long post, so I’ll leave it there. Stay tuned for more AWW reviews over the next few days.

Fringe – review

Years ago when Fringe started, I watched about 20 minutes of the first episode despite my concerns that Dawson’s Creek was heading to speculative fiction town. There was a plane, people died in mysterious and icky ways and at the 20 minute mark I thought to myself “I can’t commit to another X-Files”. I turned off the TV, rediscovered the lost art of conversation for the evening and felt vaguely relieved that I wasn’t committing myself to yet another television series. Besides, my younger self thought, it probably won’t last more than one season.

The scars of Firefly fandom run deep.

Since then, I’ve heard a scattering of good things about Fringe. Intelligent plots. Good acting not at all reminiscent of Dawson’s Creek. A long running story arc that keeps you engaged. Great characters.

And finally I heard “it’s finishing”.

Aha! I thought. Here’s my chance to get in on this show in the sure knowledge that I can watch the whole damn thing without having to worry about end of season cliffhangers.

What can I say. I think in italics. So, towards the end of last year I purchased the first four seasons on DVD and settled in over the Christmas break to make a dent.

I then proceeded to mainline the first three seasons. My wife complained she never saw me. My children suffered from neglect. Chores went unfulfilled. But finally I finished season 3 and collapsed into a puddle of TV over-watching exhaustion.

Since then I’ve rationed myself to one or two episodes of season 4 per week, partly to help in the recovery process and partly to stretch things out so I can get season 5 before I run out of season 4 episodes.

Because of the ongoing nature of the story, it’s hard to give away much plot without spoiling. Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent who begins to get involved with cases that are a bit weird. She needs Walter Bishop, a brilliant but insane scientist who used to pursue “fringe science” (think telekinesis, teleportation, genetic manipulation etc) and has spent the last 17 years in a mental institution. In order to spring him loose, she enlists the help of Walter’s son, Peter Bishop, an extremely intelligent man with a history of dealing slightly on the wrong side of the law. The three of them solve bizarre mysteries.

So far it sounds a bit X-Files doesn’t it? And reading descriptions like that was what turned me off (as much as I liked the X-Files at the time I didn’t want to repeat the experience). That was a mistake. The storyline for Fringe is much more coherent, with alternative universes, conspiracies and enough sneaky espionage to make a Mission Impossible movie proud.

The characters are wonderful, with fantastic interplay between the three leads (and a fourth regular character, Astrid, an FBI agent who primarily works with Walter in the lab). Olivia is a believable FBI agent, smart and active and even does things like ties her hair back when she is doing actiony stuff (which seems very practical to me). Walter is a brilliant bumbling scientist trying to deal with being back in the “real” world after years in a mental institution. And Peter is great as the sceptic (at least initially), and someone who can get things done outside legal processes.

The ongoing plot line manifests itself in other ways. When a character gets visibly hurt, you see the damage in later episodes, slowly fading over time. There is no reset button here. The plot seems to have been thought through quite well, with threads coming together episodes, sometimes seasons, later.

As you can probably tell, I’ve really enjoyed Fringe and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. I’d highly recommend picking it up if, like me, you’ve avoided it for this long.

The Walking Dead – Seasons 1 and 2 – review

One of the newer channels on Foxtel started up a few months back and played the first two seasons of The Walking Dead – a post apocalyptic zombie horror story that K and I decided to watch. It follows the story of a group of survivors of a virus that swept around the world, re-animating dead people as flesh craving “walkers” – very much your traditional zombie.

The main character is Rick, a former small town police officer who was gunned down and put in a coma. He wakes up to find the hospital deserted and his town filled with walkers, which has to take the record for the most disorientating way to come out of a coma that I can remember seeing on TV. He eventually finds a group of survivors, including his wife and son, and the story focuses on their attempts to find somewhere safe to bunker down.

I don’t often get hooked into zombie horror – it can (sometimes) sustain my interest over the length of a 90 minute movie, but anything longer than that strains my interest to breaking point. The Walking Dead was an exception. There is a strong ensemble cast of characters, with excellent acting and great interactions. Main characters get killed off at regular intervals, leaving a “no one is safe” feel which I find appealing.

The show is based off a comic book series of the same name. I’ve never read the comic, so I can’t comment on how true to the original it is. I understand there is a fair bit of divergence at the detailed level, but that the broad story is similar.

The show spends as much time focusing on the breakdown of civilisation as it does on gut wrenching sequences as people attempt to escape from hordes of killer zombies. This kind of exploration of how people react when their comfortable world is ripped away from them is the aspect of dystopian fiction that appeals most to me.

Having said that, this isn’t just a thoughtful philosophical piece that explores a human reaction to crisis. There is gore. Lots of gore. If fact, if you’re the type of person that feels a bit queasy when you see a bit of blood, I strongly suggest you avoid this show. But for those horror fans that don’t mind a disembowelling or two The Walking Dead provides a good combination of physical and psychological horror.

Recommended.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.